Misunderstood

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Good morning, everyone. I miss being with you live. But as Bryan said, thankful that we are able to connect. My name is Ryan Ferguson. I’m one of the pastors at North Hills Church, and I’m going to be jumping into this amazing passage that Mark gives us in Mark chapter 3.

I’ve heard rumors of relationships where people feel misunderstood. Relationships like teenagers with their parents. Apparently, some teenagers don’t believe their parents really understand them. Their parents are old and just don’t get it. Friends sometimes misunderstand the words and actions of their friends. I’ve even heard rumors of sometimes in marriage, one party, when in a conversation with the other party, doesn’t feel like they’re understood. Now, in my marriage with Rebecca, we’ve never experienced this phenomenon. We always feel completely understood. But I’ve heard rumors that that sometimes happens.

Maybe you’ve been misunderstood. So, I want you to imagine that moment where you are misunderstood, and yet you feel very right. Now, imagine the possibility that in every moment where you’re misunderstood, you actually are right. You are always clear and kind in everything you do, and it’s everybody else who always misunderstands your messages and manners. Now, go even further. Every time you’re misunderstood and every time you’re right, there are people who come along beside you and malign you. That is, they call you evil while you are doing the right thing and being misunderstood. How would that type of perpetual misunderstanding feel? Ask Jesus. He knows.

Mark shows us that Jesus is the misunderstood and maligned Messiah. Jesus is the misunderstood and maligned Messiah. The crowds, the apostles, Jesus’ people, and Jesus’ family all misunderstand him in Mark 3.

The crowds misunderstand Jesus. Word of mouth had spread (kind of the social media of the day) and let people know about this teacher Jesus who could work miracles, specifically heal diseases. So, people were traveling up to 120 miles from the south, north, and east in order to meet this miracle-working rabbi. The crowds were pursuing Jesus. And while they were pursuing him, it seems like they wanted miracles more than the Messiah, because as they pursued Jesus, their method of pursuit started to become really dangerous. It was so dangerous that Jesus actually had to have a getaway boat. He told his disciples, prepare a boat so that we can remove ourselves from the crowd.

Now, why did he have to do that? Mark tells us the crowds were so passionate about getting close to Jesus to be healed, that they were actually threatening to crush Jesus as he healed them. Everyone there with a disease was pressing in on Jesus, Mark tells us. They were falling on him, embracing him, leaning into him. They were “all up in Jesus’ grill,” as the kids used to say. This was a dangerous invasion of personal space. So consumed with a desire for healing, the crowd’s behavior threatened the healer. Like starving people who are so hungry that they’re willing to trample people giving them food, the crowd crowded into Jesus, trying to be healed. They misunderstood him. They saw a magician, not a Messiah. Jesus was, in a sense, a vending machine filled with all types of healing of disease. They focused on the product he gave more than the person that he was.

But by now in Mark, even though it’s really quick, we already know Jesus is more than a healer. Mark is really clear. Jesus was the Son of God. God said so right after Jesus was baptized. Jesus was this authoritative voice teaching doctrine with new and distinct authority. He was proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, telling people to believe, and repent, and believe in him. Jesus told people to quit their jobs and follow him. Jesus said he was actually able to forgive sin. He was Lord of the Sabbath. He was the focus of the good news. He was way more than a healer. But the crowds misunderstood that.

The apostles misunderstood Jesus. The apostles are these twelve guys that Jesus specifically called. And the text tells us (it’s so fascinating) that Jesus called those he desired to be with so that he could be with them and send them out. It’s a beautiful picture of what it means to believe and follow Jesus. You need to know that Jesus desires to be with you, and then he’s going to send you out. Now, the apostles listened to the call of Jesus. They were following him, but they didn’t always understand him. Actually, they regularly misunderstood what Jesus said. Throughout Mark, we learn things like this.

Let me give you some examples of how his followers misunderstood him. They didn’t understand his teaching on parables. At one point, Peter actually corrects and rebukes Jesus because Jesus was teaching about his own death. They didn’t understand Jesus describing dying and raising again, and they were afraid to ask for an explanation. They didn’t understand his teaching on divorce. They didn’t understand Jesus’ love and compassion for children. They didn’t understand his teaching about wealth and eternal life. They didn’t understand his view of power, leadership, and servanthood. They didn’t understand extravagant, costly worship of Jesus. And they didn’t understand their own commitment to Christ in the face of adversity.

Now, they did … They understood and heeded the call to follow Jesus, but they often misunderstood the Caller. So, I think it’s really important and helpful for us to clarify something. The apostles who followed Jesus weren’t perfect. I think sometimes because they’re in the Bible, we see the apostles as these modern day seminary graduates with complete theological knowledge and unparalleled teaching ability. But Mark kind of paints a different picture of these guys. They end up being human, just like you and me. They had great moments, and they had terrible moments. They were screw ups at times and great servants. They were almost morons at times, and yet they were missionaries around the world. They were students and simultaneously teachers. So, as we hear their stories, let’s not deify them, but let’s see in them people like us that want to pursue and follow Jesus and grow in our understanding of him.

After the calling of these apostles, Mark then shares this specific story about some of Jesus’ closest people. Mark says this,

“Then Jesus went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’”

Now, a key word in there that we have to wrestle with is the word “family.” I did some reading up here, and the word literally means “those of him.” People a lot smarter than me reason that this might be his actual family, but they’re brought up later. We’re going to talk about his family here in a few minutes. So, it seems like this is a little bit more of a broad term than just his immediate family. I think it’s Mark’s way of describing Jesus’ people — his squad, his crew, his closest companions. Mark tells us those people — made up of maybe the disciples, maybe his family, other people — they misunderstood his choices so much, they decided they had to do something drastic. They had to seize Jesus. Now, that word “seize” is a pretty strong word. We hear that word whenever Herod seizes John the Baptist and throws him into prison. Jesus uses that word at the end of his life when he’s in the garden, and they come to arrest and take him away. He describes that with the word seize. It’s aggressive and serious.

Why did they do that? Well, Mark tells us what they were thinking. They thought this Jesus, “He is out of his mind.” They thought he was crazy. In their opinion and diagnosis, Jesus was, as we would say, “nuts, loony, off his rocker, a few bricks short.” I mean, you talk about being misunderstood. I’m sure my people, my crew (and they know who they are), over the years they’ve certainly looked at my life and went, “Man, Ryan made terrible decisions.” But I don’t think they’ve actually questioned my sanity. Maybe they have, but I don’t think so.

Somehow Jesus’s life of teaching in the synagogue, healing, confrontations with religious leaders, hanging out with questionable people, calling a group of guys to quit their jobs and follow him, placed questions, serious questions in the mind of his people. Mark tells us the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak, is when Jesus started skipping meals. The crowds were around so much that Jesus and his followers couldn’t take time to grab lunch. Jesus was ignoring a culturally important time for the sake of the crowds, because meals mattered. Who you ate with, eating, being together, it mattered. But Jesus is living this life of being with people being more important than having dinner. So, friends, what would it be like to have your people … get your people in your brain. What would it be like to literally have them take you into custody because they thought you were crazy? That would be hard.

Mark goes on. He escalates the story in a way because even worse than his closest people, we learn that Jesus’ mother and brothers and sisters misunderstood him. His earthly family didn’t get him. Or maybe more specifically, they misunderstood their ongoing relationship to Jesus. There’s this moment where Jesus is inside a house teaching some people. His mom, brothers, and sisters are outside the house. Jesus is inside patiently teaching. His family is outside, impatiently waiting. How do we know that? Because the family does three things. They send, they call, and they seek. They send, call, and seek.

First, they send. The family, instead of going into the house, they send a messenger into the house. They don’t go. They send someone to fetch Jesus. The messenger goes in to call Jesus. And that word “call” there is really important. The messenger went in there to call Jesus by name. The family, in essence, told this person, “Go in there, you find a guy named Jesus. You say, ‘Jesus, you need to go.’” The messenger to Jesus describes the family as “seeking” him. And that word has a pretty wide range of meaning. It’s desire, demand, find, try to obtain. So, we get this idea of the family who’s going to send someone in, name Jesus, and tell him to come out. It’s time to go.

Think of it in a modern version. I’m out at a life group in Greer in the middle of a gathering. We’re praying and teaching and singing, listening to each other. My mom and sister are outside of the house. Someone’s about to go in, and they say, “Find Ryan and tell him to come out here. We’re waiting on him. He has to go with us.” That would be kind of an awkward moment. And I think what’s happening in Mark is Jesus’ family seems to be doing two things. They’re exercising authority that isn’t theirs culturally. Part of what makes it awkward is Jesus is a grown man, and yet he’s being fetched. Secondly, they’re ignoring authority that is Jesus’ spiritually. Jesus is called by God to teach the way of the kingdom. He’s in the middle of the mission. He is living out what he has lived out for a couple of years. The family is treating him as a boy causing a delay rather than a Messiah on a mission.

So Jesus, as he often does, radically answers the messenger in front of the group. After receiving his family summons Jesus says this, “Who are my mother and brothers?” Now, Jesus didn’t have a short term memory issue. He didn’t forget. He was setting up his answer, because he goes on to explain. The first thing he does is he looks around at the people that are with him, and then he says to the messenger, “Here [these people], here are my mother and brothers! For whoever does the will of God he is my brother and sister and mother.”

Jesus, in a culture where family was everything — heir, money, land. Everything mattered to family. Jesus transforms our view of the most intimate relationship from the lifelong nuclear family to the eternal kingdom family. He radically elevates it. Now, we know Jesus loved his family. There’s this moment recorded where Jesus is literally dying on the cross, and he still makes sure his mom is cared for. So, Jesus loves his family. But in this moment, he alters the perception of everyone around him. Family, although to culture was everything, he’s saying the real family, the truest family that I have are those who do the will of God my Father. They’re my brother, they’re my mother, and they’re my sister. The kingdom of God transforms who we’re related to. And I think if Jesus extended his definition of family to all who do the will of God, then that means the love I possess for Ferguson clan — my people, my family — that type of love and passion extends to all who do the will of God. That’s how we love. That’s how we care. That’s our truest relationships. So, we discover that even Jesus’ family misunderstood Jesus.

During the middle of all of this misunderstanding is this moment when Jesus is also maligned as he is misunderstood. He’s maligned by his opponents. I use that word on purpose, malign. You speak in a spiteful, critical way. We’re probably more familiar with the word malignant (it comes from the same word) especially when applied to cancer. Malignant cells are cells that can quickly invade and infect other cells. The scribes declare Jesus to be malignant. You’re dangerous. You’re spreading. Jesus is cancerous, they’re saying, and they say it to him in a brutal way. So, sandwiched in between the story about Jesus’ crew and Jesus’ family is this moment where Jesus comes face to face with his old friends, the scribes. The scribes have come down from Jerusalem in order to give their opinion to the people about all the miracles Jesus is doing. And the scribes publicly declare the following, “Jesus is possessed by Beelzebul” and they say, “By the prince of demons Jesus casts out other demons.” You could shorthand it and say Jesus is the son of Satan, and his miracles are done under the power of evil. That’s what the scribes say about what Jesus is doing.

So, why the accusation? What’s the win for the scribes? Well, I think what they’re doing, we could see in a very modern way. They malign Jesus to alter the narrative that Jesus is preaching — that he’s the Son of God, the Messiah come to save his people. The scribes are trying to tell a new tale. They’re trying to share a new story. They tear Jesus down to change the public perception. This is a smear campaign. If Jesus is evil, then even his good deeds will now be terrible, the crowd will hate him and return to the status quo of listening to the scribes. The religious maligned Jesus to gain control over the situation. Because to them, Jesus’ miracles, popularity, theology, and way of life are a threat to their control. So, the scribes say the devil’s using Jesus.

Jesus, in rapid fire style, uses one question and three stories to completely destroy their attack. The first thing out of Jesus’ mouth is this. He asks, “How can Satan cast out Satan?” He’s asking a methodological question. How does that work? You said that. How does that work? And this leads me to want to make fun of the scribes just a little bit. I mean, you can almost see how this is going down. The scribes are meeting together to figure out how to trap this Jesus that they hate. They’ve had a council. We’ve got to destroy this guy. And they’re looking at each other going, “Okay, how do we do it? How do we get him? How do we get people to hate him and like us? Think! What’s the plan?” One of them raises their hand, and he’s acknowledged, and he says, “I have an idea. Let’s accuse him of being the son of the devil and using the devil to cast out the devil’s demons.” And apparently, they didn’t do a whole lot of editing about the idea. Everybody just jumps in and says, “Brilliant, let’s do that. Now we’ve got him!” They didn’t see their own ignorance. In their accusation, they admit that there are evil demons, and that Jesus casts them out. So, Jesus with simplicity says, “Guys, how does that work? How does Satan get rid of Satan?”

Then Jesus jumps into parable mode and he does these first two stories that talk about divided kingdoms and divided houses. Neither divided kingdoms nor divided houses can stand, can remain upright, can stay in power. A kingdom divided against itself can’t stand. Think of it this way. President Biden can’t run an attack ad against President Biden and expect to win an election. It’s not going to work. A house divided against itself can’t stand. Hypothetically of course, if Rebecca and I are having a little bit of an argument, and she’s saying I don’t listen. And my response to her is, “Oh, yeah, I’ll tell you the truth, I don’t listen. So there, I’m right. I don’t listen.” I’m making a silly case. I’m destroying myself. My argument dies. Jesus concludes those two “divided stand” stories by looking at the scribes and saying, “If what you’re saying is true, if Satan is casting out Satan, then he’s destroying himself, and his time is done.” Now, the problem for the scribes with that statement is they didn’t believe that that was true. They didn’t believe Satan was killing Satan and the time was done.

Jesus drops one more quick parable. In this story, we discover that Jesus teaches us the proper way to rob a house. I’ll bet you never heard that before, that in Jesus’ teaching in the New Testament he gives us the proper way to commit burglary. Jesus says this:

“No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed, he may plunder his house.”

Jesus does this a couple of times. He tells odd stories and puts himself into the wrong character. Because in this story, Jesus is the burglar. Satan is the strong man. Jesus is the one who binds the strong man so that he can free people from Satan’s control. Jesus is saying, “It’s not Satan’s power that I’m using. I’m actually binding him with my power so I can free people from his power.” Some of you know me pretty well. Part of this is my imagination. I think that’s partly what narrative story in the Bible is supposed to do, is let you get into the story and imagine it. I would love to see the scribes’ faces at this point, especially the guy who gave the idea, “Let’s accuse Jesus this way,” because Jesus just destroyed their entire argument.

And then to finish it off, Jesus turns to the scribes with what’s probably the most serious and scary warning in the New Testament, I think. He says this:

“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin, for they were saying, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’”

So first, let’s go with that first statement and feel it. All sins committed and whatever blasphemies are spoken can be forgiven. That is a huge encouragement. That is a shame-shattering statement. Anything that’s done, God can forgive. Anyone listening out there right now, anything can be forgiven. Then Jesus says this hard statement. But, if the focus of blasphemy is against the Holy Spirit, forgiveness is deniable. Why? Because the text explains the scribes were saying Jesus has an unclean spirit. The scribes knowingly attributed the work of the devil to the work of the Spirit through Jesus. When you knowingly say God’s good is the devil’s evil, you have made a blasphemous choice with eternal consequences.

Throughout kind of church history, this is called the unpardonable sin, and unfortunately, the term has been abused and stretched to take in other specific sins that people thought were really bad and situations that people thought should really be judged. But Jesus’ teaching here is clear and stark. The issue is attributing God’s good to God’s enemy. The issue is not God’s ability or willingness to forgive. Rather, it shows that God allows man to make real choices. If you see God doing something good, and in turn you declare it to be evil, you are in a dangerous place. And this passage is warning you.

Jesus is the misunderstood and maligned Messiah. So, what do we do with this? What do we do with this stretch of stories? First, these stories have led me, and I hope will lead you, to sympathize with Jesus, to sympathize with the life of Jesus. For anyone who’s been around church world, anyone who has heard the story of Jesus, of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, to sympathize with him doing that, the God-man dying, for us to sympathize with that moment, it’s almost impossible. How can we sympathize with something that is so indescribably terrible? I don’t know that we can.

But in the gospels, these stories of the life of Jesus allow us to sympathize with him. Think about it. His followers, his closest friend, his mom, his brothers and his sisters that he lived with his life, they didn’t get him. They wanted to seize him. They thought he was crazy. For Jesus to be human, that had to be hard and hurtful. I had this striking thought; I’ve never considered that Jesus had his feelings hurt in all of his life. But for him to be human, that had to hurt because love is risky. When the object of our love doesn’t understand us, the pain is deep. His friends thought he was crazy. Yes, Jesus is God, but he’s got to be human. And Mark allows us to see within the context of these real relationships that we share with Jesus — these real relationships of family and friends — that man was he misunderstood!

Secondly, these stories then remind us that Jesus sympathizes with us. Jesus knows what it’s like. In another book of the Bible called Hebrews, the author says this. I’m going to work through three verses super fast, but it helps us see how Jesus feels and gets us. The author says this:

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.”

Because Jesus is the best and only high priest we need, hold on to what you believe about him. So, hold on to what you believe about Jesus,

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

Jesus is not a priest in a lofty tower who thinks he’s better than all of us. Jesus lived life just like us. He was misunderstood. He was maligned. He was placed into positions where temptation was very real, yet he never gave in. Jesus gets us. He continues.

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

So, because Jesus is a priest of the people, a priest for real people in real life, allow your confidence to swell when you need help and become a mercy finder and grace receiver in every moment of your need because Jesus gets you. Jesus sympathizes with you. When no one understands you accurately, Jesus always does. Jesus is the most sympathetic human in the history of the world, and he is arguably the only sympathetic deity. Jesus completely and utterly understands how you feel.

Third, what do we do with this? Jesus’ teaching on family elevates our view of the family of God. His view on family (my family is whoever does the will of God) elevates our view of the family of God. So, you wrestle with, who is your real family? Again, Jesus isn’t saying the Fergusons don’t matter or your family doesn’t matter. But he is saying that from his perspective, the most important family are those who join him in doing the will of God. So, this week, brothers and sisters, as you interact with Jesus and as I interact with Jesus, I want you to consider these questions. How does this story help you sympathize with Jesus? Think about what his life was like and let that arise feelings in you for him, what his life was like. Then move to, where do you need to connect his sympathy back towards you and your life? Where do you need to almost dunk yourself into the reality that Jesus knows what your life is like, and he’s sympathizing with you forever?

And finally, how does Jesus’ view of family alter your view of your brothers and sisters at North Hills Church? And if I might be specific, how does it alter relationships that are in tension or conflict? Because those relationships exist in our church, in your home. How does Jesus’ view a family alter and impact your view of other people? How does it impact your view of other brothers and sisters in Christ at other churches in our city, in our state, and around the world? How does it even radically alter your view of race and nation as we consider that the family of God is all around the world, because it’s those who do the will of the Father?

Jesus is our misunderstood and maligned Messiah. He understands you, and he understands me.

Let’s pray. Father, I just want to ask you to take your Word and take it into the homes of all of these people that I love from North Hills Church. Take it into the homes of our partners around the world. And God, if there are people out there that are just watching, would you take this word and put it into their heart and let them know that they are loved, that Jesus was born, lived, died and rose again for them and that your call to them is to repent and believe in the good news. Continue to do a work in our church here that we would focus on the person of Jesus this year and never be the same. I pray this with faith in the name of Jesus, amen.

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